First, just go watch it. It’s free on YouTube here.
The moment we’re living in is one of extended, acute trauma. It’s everything happening all at the same time, bearing down on the entire globe.
So, what is comedy’s purpose in this time, especially when it has been already redefining itself as an art form under the COVID-19 pandemic? It’s a question that we have been pondering for weeks, especially since having the energy to attempt to be funny seems to be on short supply.
Cue Dave Chappelle and his nearly half-hour special 8:46 that was recorded only last week (outside with a socially distanced crowd in face masks) and released last night. Chappelle has never shied away from talking about crucial issues in his stand-up, sometimes in a controversial way, but he has gotten lengthier in his analysis of them in these years, especially when he released his first special after leaving Chappelle’s Show.
8:46, of course, denotes the amount of time that Derek Chauvin had his knee on George Floyd’s neck murdering him in broad daylight with three other officers standing passively by him. That is the entire focus of the Chappelle’s set, which Dave notes is material that he’s working out. It is as raw as Chappelle has ever gotten and often it’s not necessarily hysterical, but that is sort of the point. The tension is clear and we’re all meant to sit in it as we have been to feel it together within a space that is normally reserved for well-crafted bits, jokes, and social satire met with laughter and applause.
However, it’s illuminating in a way that comedic thinking can often highlight contradictions. In 8:46, Dave makes a brilliant connection between the saga of Christopher Dorner and George Floyd and the global outcry for justice. Ironically, Chappelle even confesses that he shouldn’t even be the one speaking out as the streets are doing a much better job of that. Dave utilizes the platform of 8:46 as a “comedy special” to juxtapose, as comedy so expertly does, disparate things that, actually, may be not be so disparate for a salient point. For now, that’s definitely something comedy can do in this historical moment.